Few would argue the fact that Sugardaddy’s has the best brownies in central Ohio. Some have said they are “the best brownies in the nation.”
Food Network named Sugardaddy’s “Best of the Best” and they were featured on Throwdown with Bobby Flay, where co-founders Mark Ballard and Tom Finney went head-to-head with the celebrity chef, ultimately defeating him with their Tahitian Blondie.
If you’ve ever had one of their heavenly desserts, you certainly know what all the fuss is about. If you haven’t, I highly recommend you do – as soon as possible.
Producing this type of quality product does not come cheap.
Sugardaddy’s, a Columbus-area company that operates 3 retail shops, an online store and has 20 full time employees during the regular season and 26 during the holiday season, uses a lot of electricity.
According to a letter signed by Mark Ballard and other downtown small business owners, Sugardaddy’s spent $35,000 on electricity last year. All of it paid to American Electric Power (AEP).
Due to recently approved AEP rate increases, Sugardaddy’s expects to pay $55,000 this year – an increase of $20,000!
Mark’s letter was also signed by the owners of other small businesses on and around Gay St. downtown like Rinkov Eyecare Center, Tip Top Kitchen and Capitol Square Printing. It was sent to Chairman Todd Snitchler of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) and other elected officials and political appointees like Mark Kvamme and Christiane Schmenk, Kasich’s current Director of Development.
The letter was sent on February 10th and, as of this evening, they have not heard back from any of the PUCO Commissoners, AEP’s CEO, Governor Kasich, AG DeWine or the Inspector General’s office.
I contacted Mark last week and he, unlike the recipients of his letter, did not hesitate to respond, quickly explaining the significant negative impact these new rates, some jumping 40% overnight, will have on Ohio’s small business owners like himself. According to Mark, “this action will affect job creation in Ohio and new business upstarts and relocations if it is not reversed.” For his company, “It will halt all growth plans for 2012 and 2013” and possibly put him “in the position to make staff reductions.”
So how did we get here?
For decades, the invisible hand of the governor has directed the PUCO. While many governors did the bidding of business, Governor Strickland started tilting the PUCO back toward consumers. He worked directly with the Ohio Coalition for Affordable Power to craft a new system that allowed Ohio to avoid huge spikes in cost seen in other states that had deregulated their electric utilities.
Soon after taking office, Governor Kasich made it clear he would be returning to old ways.
Kasich quickly wounded residential customers by slicing the budget of the Office of Consumers’ counsel. And his appointment for head of the PUCO, Todd Snitchler, had worked, albeit as an intern, for FirstEnergy’s legal department
Most importantly, AEP got something it had been requesting for years: The ability to gouge customers.
Why do the utilities have so much power? It certainly doesn’t hurt that Kasich received over $43,000 in campaign contributions from AEP employees including $6,500 from CFO Brian Tierney, $5,000 from formed COO and Board Member Carl English, $5,000 from COO Robert P. Powers, $5,000 from CEO Nick Akins.
The Dispatch’s Dan Gearino has been covering this story intensely. Last week he reported that the PUCO would be looking at revising the rate change but “there will be no additional public hearings, and small-business groups will not have the opportunity to officially intervene in the case” despite the fact that “the PUCO had received 229 complaints about business rates since the AEP rate plan took effect.”
Rumor has it that Lynn Slaby, a former Judge and current Republican State Rep. from the 41st district, will be Kasich’s next pick, allowing the newbie lawmaker and veteran double-dipper to retire at a much higher rate. It’s unclear if having Slaby at the PUCO would be better or worse for small business owners. But it may not matter. The damage will likely be done.
As IO pointed out this morning, Kasich and Taylor came into office promising to help small businesses. Their CSI initiative was formed “solely to reflect the viewpoints of and advocate for the small business community.” But they have been noticeably silent on this huge change which impacts hundreds of Ohio’s small businesses, costing many of tens of thousands of dollars each.
As the Dispatch’s Joe Vardon points out, CSI did save the owner of a company that rents bounce houses $600 by eliminating an extra inspection. So, you know, there’s that. But when it comes to the big issues, silence.
Kasich campaigned on his ability to work magic for Ohio’s small businesses, but overwhelming evidence shows that he’s eschewed this responsibility in favor of helping out his big campaign donors. It stands to be seen whether Kasich will help bring relief to local small businesses like Sugardaddy’s and the hundreds of others that have filed complaints with the PUCO, and I certainly hope he does. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.